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Arnot Peak

Carson-Iceberg Wilderness

Carson-Iceberg Wilderness Links:

July 5th, 2003

11.0 miles
2505 vertical feet
Total Time: 6:55

Rating: 9/10

Directions: Take Highway 4 east toward Bear Valley. Continue past Bear Valley onto undivided section for about 14 miles. Turn right onto Road 8N01, signed for Highland Lakes campground. Follow road for 5 miles (last 4 miles are unpaved). Turn left into parking lot signed for Gardner Meadow Trailhead, just north of Lower Highland Lake.   View Driving Map

Unlike two days ago, when I hiked to Asa Lake, the parking lot was filled with cars -- about 10 of them. Knowing it was a long hike and a hot day, I took along a gallon of water and Gatorade. I thought about taking more, but my pack was already pretty big. I'd regret this decision later...

I started off on the trail around 9:10am. The first 0.6 miles is the same as the hike to Asa Lake. This time, instead of taking the fork to the left, I took the fork to the right. The trail descends briefly, then is mostly flat as it goes through Upper Gardner Meadow for about a mile. It is quite pretty here, especially in the morning light. It's a very large meadow, with lots of mules ears.

Upper Gardner Meadow

As I approached the next trail intersection, I noticed a fisherman coming up behind me. I took the left fork toward Disaster Creek, and he took the right fork (straight ahead) to Arnot Creek. The trail climbs briefly, then descends into the forest, skirting meadows here and there. It was quite muddy at times, but nothing where I sank in.

After skirting another muddy meadow, the trail veers to the left into a small section of forest. I lost the trail at this point. While I was wandering about trying to find it, two day hikers came barreling through. They were carrying next to nothing (maybe one or two water bottles). Not sure where they were headed, but at least they did find the trail, on the other side of some more muddy meadow to the right of the trail I was standing on.

The trail shortly disappears again, but after crossing the creek, you'll find it on the other side, heading south, parallel to the creek. After less than 10 more minutes of walking, I crossed a small creek. The Schaffer book says that after 0.6 miles from where I'd just been, I'd cross a creek and then start going cross-country to the left. But it was too soon for that, I thought...I couldn't cover that much distance that quickly. So I thought maybe it was the wrong creek...there were so many seasonal run-offs from the snow melt, who knew? So I kept going.

I kept looking to my left, trying to see evidence of cross-country activity, but I couldn't find any. At one point I stopped near some old fences and took the book out. While I was there, the mosquitoes converged on me. I quickly decided the book wasn't helping and I kept going. I was about to turn around and head back up when I saw three backpackers coming up toward me. I asked them how long it'd been since they were at the Disaster Creek/Paradise Valley intersection. They said it'd been about 30 minutes. Given that it was 2.1 miles from there to where I wanted to go, I was close to a mile too far down the trail!

I decided to stop here and eat something before heading back up the trail. My altimeter said 8200 feet, and the map said I wanted to cut across at about 8390. Part of me wondered whether I should just call it a day, but I still had plenty of daylight left, so I continued. I headed back up the trail, continually scanning for cross-country activity (i.e., footprints). I didn't find any. Eventually, when my altimeter said 8350, I decided to just go for it. I just took out my compass and started heading northeast.

Climbing through the brush

After quickly exiting the forest, I encountered mostly brushy terrain. Low brush, about mid-calf high. I was glad to be wearing long pants (a must for off-trail travel). I shortly encountered cow pies on the ground, which was actually a comforting sight. If cows came here, maybe people did, too? I couldn't be that far off. I climbed up a steep gully, trying my hardest to get out. As I got higher, I saw more wildflowers, too numerous to identify. Of course that also meant I started sneezing.

Climbing the steep slope

I tried my hardest not to trample the flowers as I switchbacked my way up slowly. A creek flowed to my right as I veered to the left to exit the gully. Eventually I reached a plateau where I rested and evaluated the terrain ahead of me. I also stopped to take some pictures of the most striking flowers here, pink ones with yellow tinges on the edges.


Above me was a large snow bank in a gully. I had to decide whether to go left or right of the snow bank, which was much too steep to walk on itself. The left side had less vegetation, so I decided it would be easier than going to the right, which looked initially steeper. Looks can be deceiving, however. It turns out I made a horrific mistake.

The path I took had less vegetation for a reason. It was steeper and probably prone to avalanches in the summer. While there was no snow directly above me, it was still very steep, and got steeper and steeper as I got higher. The higher I got, the slower I traveled. Since I was hiking solo, I had to continually think very carefully about what I was doing. Especially since I was now off-trail. If I broke an ankle or was knocked unconscious for whatever reason, help would be far off (or too late) in coming. I understand the risks of solo hiking and I hope you (the reader) do as well. It just happened that I wasn't able to find a hiking partner for this hike. That being said, I don't recommend this trip solo for anyone who doesn't understand those risks. People fall and injure themselves all the time. If you're alone, the situation is magnified.

Okay, I admit, I fell. Once. Luckily for me, I only slid down about a foot. There was also a tree below me, although it's debatable whether it would have stopped my fall. The rocks I knocked didn't stop after a foot, though. They kept falling and falling, maybe 100 feet down. After that I was extremely careful with each and every step. I could see the promised land of solid ground just a few feet away from me. Turning back at this point wouldn't have been any safer, so I made those few steps until I breathed a sigh of relief and walked on solid ground.

The rest of the way was easy compared to what I'd just been through. I made my way past the wildflowers and bushes, up to a broad saddle. Contrary to what the Schaffer map says, the saddle is definitely not at 10,040 feet. It's more like 9650 feet. It's a huge saddle, about the size of a football field. It's quite windy at the top. After stopping to rest a minute, I turned right to head up to the summit. Following the book's instructions, I veered to the right to avoid tackling a slope head-on. As I did so, I found an old knife lying on the ground, still in its case. I left it there.

I made the final push to the 10,054 foot summit, past some brightly colored Indian paintbrush. There are two metal boxes at the top. One of them contains the summit register. The other contained newspaper clippings and photographs. I'm not sure what it was -- maybe a memorial of some kind? It looked like I entered the third entry in the summit register this year. There was one from June 22nd, and another from this morning. I'm guessing that most of the entries come between July and October. I guess I must have just missed the two backpackers with their two dogs. It was 1:15pm when I summitted. I wrote my entry and then enjoyed the views.

View from the summit

Plaque on the summit

The views from the top of Arnot Peak are amazing. You feel like you're on top of the world. They're much better than the views from Hiram or Folger. Part of that might be because both of those peaks are so close to the Highland Lakes campground just below. Arnot Peak, on the other hand, feels like it's far away from everything, especially after the cross-country travel. Mountain views stretch off in all directions. There were snow-capped peaks to the south. At this point in the year, probably only 11,000 foot peaks would be capped with snow.

Snow slopes below Arnot Peak

Valley view

While I sat and ate, I endured the constant buzzing of flies all around me. Luckily they weren't the biting kind. I was a bit surprised I didn't see anyone else on the summit, considering it was a holiday weekend. But I guess the drive and the cross-country travel limits the number of people who make it to the top. Although you wouldn't guess it by the size of the summit register.

Another summit view

More summit views

I left the windy summit around 2pm. I retraced my steps, but not all of my steps. In particular, when I descended from the big saddle, I veered to the left to avoid the steep gully I'd ascended. This made life much easier, and I soon encountered man-made paths through the bushes. Once I was past the gully, I veered to the right to try to end up higher on the established trail than where I left it. I was sure I wouldn't miss the trail since I was going perpendicular to it.

The path I took downhill was speedy and safe. But as I descended, I thought about whether there should be an actual trail to the top. It's not an easy call to make. A trail would prevent hikers from randomly trampling through the wildflowers. On the other hand, a trail would create a permanent human presence. It depends on how many people climb to the top. The more hikers, the better the argument in favor of a trail. Considering that there's a summit register, as well as a permanent plaque on top, it would seem that it's pretty popular. On the other hand, there doesn't appear to be any appreciable damage to the wildflowers. So maybe it's okay the way it is. The drive and terrain will deter enough people. I don't know whether my description here will deter or encourage hikers. I guess I'm ambivalent -- I neither want to deter nor encourage for this particular hike. :)

Eventually I heard a creek on my right. I descended roughly parallel to it. I passed a campfire ring made of rocks, then shortly encountered the trail. The creek I'd been following was the creek I'd crossed on the trail so long ago. In case you are wondering, my altimeter now read 8430, and I reached the trail just a few feet from the creek.

I continued back along the trail, this time crossing a fallen tree to cross the marshy area where I'd run into those two speed hikers. Before I reached the climb back up to the Disaster Creek/Arnot Creek intersection, I sucked my Camelbak dry. When I reached the top of the climb, I checked my Gatorade supply. About 16 ounces left. I gulped down 8 ounces, then saved the rest for later. I only had about 1.6 mostly flat miles to go.

As I sped through the Upper Gardner Meadow, I passed a pair of hikers. One was setting up a tripod and reflector to take wildflower pictures. See, there are some people out there more hard-core than I am when it comes to photography. Although I do admit to wanting to get a reflector; I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Just before I started the climb back up to the first trail intersection, I drank my last 8 ounces of Gatorade. Then I walked the remaining distance to the parking lot, just as 5 or 6 other hikers and backpackers finished their hikes. As soon as I got to my car I sucked down water and ate the best apple I've ever tasted.

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